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At Westerville Dental Associates, patients often ask our dental team about teeth grinding. We like to start our answer by explaining that teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is a condition in which people grind, gnash, or clench their teeth. Next, we explain the causes of bruxism. If the patient has bruxism, we are glad to help them determine its cause, treat any damage it causes, and discover ways to prevent teeth grinding from causing future dental problems.
Westerville Dentists Answer Questions about Teeth Grinding
What is bruxism?
Bruxism is a problem in which you unconsciously and repeatedly grind your teeth or clench your jaw. Dentists define bruxism a repetitive jaw-muscle activity involving jaw clenching and teeth grinding, or pushing the lower jaw forcefully upwards.
Is bruxism harmful?
Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw once in a while will not harm your teeth. The repeated grinding and clenching associated with bruxism can have harmful effects. Clenching and grinding can place up to 250 pounds of force on your teeth and jaws. This excessive force can fracture or loosen your teeth, harm your TMJ, make jaw and neck muscles sore, wear down your teeth, and even lead to tooth loss.
What are the types of bruxism?
There are two main types of bruxism: awake bruxism and sleep bruxism.
Sleep bruxism affects 15 to 40 percent of children and 8 to 10 percent of adults. Bruxism may appear when a child gets their first tooth; as many as 30 percent of children grind their teeth by the time they are 6 years old.
Fortunately, teeth grinding stops as a child grows older – a child’s mouth grows and changes quickly, and many outgrow bruxism by the time they get their baby teeth. Bruxism rates then fall throughout childhood and into adulthood, peaking at about 12 percent in young adults and falling to 2 to 4 percent by the age of 60.
Sleep bruxism may be a contributing factor to sleep apnea, snoring, and other sleep disorders. Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person stops and starts breathing several times throughout the night.
What Causes Bruxism?
Researchers are still working to discover the underlying cause of bruxism, but they believe a combination of physical, psychological, and genetic factors contribute to its development.
The brain and nervous system play a role in bruxism. Just before teeth grinding begins, there is an uptick in brain activity, heart rate, increased muscle tone in the jaw, and breathing. Next comes an increase in rhythmic masticatory muscle activity (RMMA), or chewing action, in the jaw muscles. The muscle activity is strong enough to produce damage when teeth on the upper and lower jaw grind together.
Sleep bruxism may be the result of micro-arousals, which is when you wake up just a little bit or transition from sleep to wakefulness. The part of the brain responsible for regulating arousal and sleep-wake transitions also plays a role in the fight-or-flight response to stress. The act of grinding your teeth may even help open your airway to improve breathing during sleep.
Awake bruxism may develop as the result of emotions, such as stress, anxiety, tension, frustration, or anger that trigger the fight-or-flight response. Caffeine, medications, and other health disorders may cause awake bruxism.
Risk factors for bruxism
Certain factors can increase the risk of teeth grinding. Bruxism risk factors include:
Increased emotions – especially anxiety, stress, anger or frustration
Age – teeth grinding is common in young children, but typically goes away by adulthood
Personality type – having a competitive, hyperactive, aggressive “type A” personality can increase the risk that you’ll grind your teeth
Medications and other substances – drug-induced bruxism may present as an uncommon side effect of some medications, especially SSRI antidepressants and antipsychotics; smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages, or using recreational drugs may also increase the risk of bruxism
Family history of bruxism – having a family member with bruxism increases the likelihood that you will grind your teeth
Other disorders – some mental health and medical disorders may increase the risk for bruxism; these disorders include:
- Brain injury
- Cerebral palsy
- Down syndrome
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Parkinson’s disease
- Sleep-related disorders, such as snoring or apnea
Certain factors do not seem to increase the risk for bruxism. Gender does not play a role, for example, as bruxism affects an equal number of males and females.
Do I have bruxism?
Bruxism does not always cause symptoms, but when it does, symptoms may include:
- Disrupted sleep
- Headaches or facial pain, especially when you first wake up
- Loose or painful teeth
- Sore jaw muscles
- Cracked or broken teeth
- Wear on teeth
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction that sounds like clicking or popping in your jaw; severe TMJ disorders can cause painful jaw “locking” that prevents you from opening your mouth all the way
- Pain when you eat
Treatment for Bruxism Depends on its Cause
The dental team at Westerville Dental Associates can help you determine the underlying cause of your bruxism. We can also recommend treatments that reduce teeth grinding, address the damage it causes, and even help prevent it.
Treating the underlying cause of bruxism can help reduce damage and ease symptoms. Treatment may include reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, engaging in relaxation techniques, and keeping other health conditions under control.
We provide treatment to address the damage inflicted by bruxism. Treatments may include repairing teeth that are cracked or broken, loose, or worn down from repeated grinding and clenching. These treatments can help ease jaw muscle pain, headaches, disrupted sleep, and pain when you eat.
Our team of dental professionals may recommend a night guard to prevent damage from bruxism. Night guards are a type of mouthguard designed specifically to treat bruxism. We’ll create a night guard that fits perfectly over your teeth and prevents clenching and grinding as you sleep.
For more information on bruxism and its causes, contact Westerville Dental Associates. Our team of dental professionals are always glad to answer your questions.